Hustle. Grit. Determination. Courage. Perseverance. All words that perfectly describe the ultimately successful first half of the Celtics season. No superstar? No problem.
The Celtics will have their first representative at the NBA All-Star game since the 2012-13 season when they send point guard Isaiah Thomas to Toronto for the mid-season festivities. Thomas is clearly a willing recipient as he has been the glue that has held the 32-23 Celtics together and willed them to a third seed in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break. Here are the top 5 Celtics games from the first half of the season
#5 December 11 vs. Golden State (L 119-124)
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors have the chance to be the best NBA team EVER. The Warriors are 48-4 at the All-Star Break and will have to go 25-5 in the second half to beat the Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins in 1995-96. The Celtics welcomed the Warriors to the Garden back in December as Golden State was amidst their impressive winning streak that captivated NBA fans. Steph Curry and the Warriors were 23-0 when they arrived in Boston and would eventually leave 24-0, but not before a 2OT game in which the Celtics were one late Isaiah Thomas basket away from spoiling the streak. It was Curry’s worst shooting performance of the season to that point as we only sunk nine of 27 shots from the field.
As for the streak? It would be broken the next night in Milwaukee as the Bucks defeated the tired Warriors and handed Golden State their first loss of the season. Surprised the Bucks never sent a thank you note or at least a thank you tweet to the Celtics after the game.
#4 January 16 at Washington (W 119-117)
This game speaks to a larger theme for the first half of the Celtics season. Jae Crowder has been incredible. He went from being “the guy that the Celtics got in the Rondo trade” to being the best defensive player on the Celtics. Crowder has displayed exceptional perimeter defense and has averaged 1.8 steals per game. And the best part about Crowder is that, in addition to his defensive prowess, he gives the Celtics 14.1 points per game on the offensive side of the ball.
In the Celtics’ mid-January match-up with Washington, Crowder finished with 22 points including a game-winning lay up with just over three seconds remaining in the game. Crowder’s fire was fueled by comments directed toward him from Wizards coach Randy Wittman from the sidelines. Crowder after the game:
“I had never had that happen in my time playing basketball. I never had an interaction with a coach. I feel like he was getting away with a lot of curse words and inappropriate words to me, and I retaliated and I got hit. (Referee) Tony (Brothers) said he didn’t hear anything from Wittman. I’m not going to outburst on a coach and say something like that for no reason”
Crowder will have to keep up his defensive intensity for the second half of the season and into the playoffs if this Celtics team really wants to compete for a championship.
#3 January 13 vs. Indiana (W 103-94)
Amidst a four-game losing streak and on the verge of falling to .500, the Celtics were in their toughest stretch of the season when they welcomed Paul George and the Pacers to the Garden.
At the time the Celtics were quickly gaining the reputation as a team that struggled in the fourth quarter and could not hold on to late leads. They had just blown a 21-point lead against the Memphis Grizzlies three nights earlier and then lost to a New York Knicks team that was without Carmelo Anthony the night after. Now they had the Pacers, who the Celtics were 0-2 against up to that point, coming to town in their Hoosiers throwback jerseys.
Led by several late steals from Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, the Celtics went on a 12-0 run late in the fourth and held on to the much needed victory. While it was a seemingly pedestrian win against a decent opponent, the timing of the win was crucial as it kick started a small three-game winning streak and got the Celtics back on track after their skid.
#2 February 10 vs. LA Clippers (W 139-134)
A tremendously entertaining game from start to finish, the Celtics defeated the Clippers in their last game before the All-Star Break. Isaiah Thomas was clearly the star of this game as “The Little Guy” sliced and diced his way to the basket and found creative ways to get around the defensively talented forward, DeAndre Jordan.
It was yet another homecoming for Paul Pierce, but fans soon that behind them as they watched Thomas, Evan Turner, and Marcus Smart will the Celtics to a victory over a confused Clippers team.
#1 February 5 vs. Cleveland (W 104-103)
It’s always great beating LeBron James. Makes it even better when it is a game-winning shot from Avery Bradley. Makes it EVEN BETTER when the Celtics possession was because of a bone-headed foul from wise guy J.R. Smith.
Somehow the Celtics managed to stay in games and refused to give up even when they were down by 15+ points in the fourth quarter. This Celtics team is going to compete with the best of the league down the stretch even if they don’t land a superstar in a trading deadline deal.